The Milwaukee Brewers are having a tough season. At the time of writing this article (Aug. 29), they are currently 61-69, 16.5 games behind the division leading Cincinnati Reds, and 9.5 games behind one of the two Wild Card spots up for grabs.
The fat lady hasn't sung yet though, and the Brewers have actually been clicking pretty well lately. One player that I don't really think anyone expected to see contribute to the major league this season is Mark Rogers, who has quietly been pitching quite well for the Brew Crew.
Rogers' stat-line isn't overly impressive off the cuff. He's boasting a 4.28 ERA, which isn't terrible, but not great either. His biggest struggle this season has been command—he's often prone to being a bit wild with his fastball and/or leaving his breaking balls hanging in the zone too much.
But when you look past those numbers, you see that Rogers is actually doing quite well. He's pitched in 33.2 innings over the course of six starts, and in those 33.2 innings, he has 36 strikeouts.
His high strikeout rate has given him a respectable 3.00 strikeout to bases on balls ratio, and it's proof that Rogers, despite all of the problems the former first rounder has faced up to this point, still has what it takes to be great.
Rogers was originally drafted fifth overall by the Brew Crew in 2004. At the time of his signing, the 18-year-old was viewed as a lock to be a future ace for the still-developing team.
His fastball was, and still is a real heater, sitting comfortably in the mid-90s, and with a little extra sauce, he can touch 97 or 98. It's a lively fastball, and when he has control over it, it's a dominating pitch.
He also has a couple of solid breaking balls, a slider in the mid-80s, a change-up in the low-to-mid-80s, and the occasional curveball in the upper-70s.
Ace-like pitches to be sure, but injuries have plagued Rogers in his path to the majors. Yovani Gallardo, drafted in the second round of that same 2004 draft, has instead become Milwaukee's ace, and Rogers has toiled in the minors trying to stay healthy and keep his command.
A brief, but successful call-up in 2010 led many to believe that Rogers was finally ready. He was named the Brewers best prospect prior to the 2011 season, and he looked like a surefire major league call-up player. Instead, he only pitched in 44.1 innings in the minors in 2011 due to injury, and posted a ghastly 9.37 ERA.
The most telling statistic of that year was all of the walks. He issued a shocking 42 walks compared to 40 strikeouts in 2011, and it looked like his career had sunk. To add insult to injury, Rogers was slammed with a 25-game suspension for the use of a banned substance at the end of 2011 that carried over into this season.
But call it perseverance, call it luck, call it whatever you want...Mark Rogers is a starter for the same major league team that drafted him way back in 2004, and he's doing quite well after you consider everything I've just told you.
Barring another injury (which certainly isn't out of the question), Rogers should be competing for one of the five rotation spots next season. He'll have a lot of pitchers to beat out, namely guys like Chris Narveson, Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg and Wily Peralta, not to mention whoever the Brewers (hopefully) pursue in free agency.
It's not a sure thing...in fact, I'm not sure he should even be on the opening day roster. Maybe if he has a great spring training, and shows his command problems have improved, but I don't think it would be out of line to start him in Triple-A Nashville again next year, just to be sure.
But, that being said, Rogers can still be an ace. He has the pure firepower to do so, and he obviously has the work-ethic, as few players with all of the problems he has faced make any substantial contributions to a professional team.
A couple of days ago, I posted an article about how Carlos Gomez is finally living up to his potential. I think it's fair to say that Rogers is getting there as well. The two players have taken remarkably different paths to approach and surpass the barrier, but they're both doing it at the same time.
Rogers is only 26 years old, and as long as the Brewers don't overwork him, Rogers will be a valuable pitcher in this system. Control is always going to be an issue for a guy who throws a fastball with a ton of movement at 95 MPH, but it's certainly much better than last year.
Perhaps Rogers will soon be the No. 2 starter behind Gallardo, and perhaps he'll be the pitcher scouts saw in him back in 2004. He deserves it, and the Brewers sure could use him.